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Albanese Elected Australia's Leader    05/22 09:03

   

   SYDNEY (AP) -- Australians awoke on Sunday to a new prime minister in 
Anthony Albanese, the center-left Labor Party leader whose ascension to the 
nation's top job from being raised in social housing by a single mother on a 
disability pension was said to reflect the country's changed fabric.

   The 59-year-old career politician, who has described himself as the only 
candidate with a "non-Anglo Celtic name" to run for prime minister in the 121 
years the office has existed, referred to his humble upbringing in the 
inner-Sydney suburb of Camperdown while thanking electors for making him the 
country's 31st leader.

   "It says a lot about our great country that a son of a single mom who was a 
disability pensioner, who grew up in public housing down the road in 
Camperdown, can stand before you tonight as Australia's prime minister," 
Albanese told jubilant supporters after tipping Scott Morrison out of office to 
end nine years of conservative rule.

   "Every parent wants more for the next generation than they had. My mother 
dreamt of a better life for me. And I hope that my journey in life inspires 
Australians to reach for the stars," he said.

   It's unclear whether Albanese's party could form a majority government or 
will have to rely on an increased number of independents and minor party 
lawmakers who won seats in Saturday's election, in results analysts described 
as extremely complicated, and which also mirrored the face of modern Australia.

   With counting set to continue for many days as postal votes are tallied, one 
prospect that emerged was that Albanese may need to be sworn in as acting prime 
minister to attend Tuesday's Quad summit in Tokyo with U.S. President Joe 
Biden, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and Indian Prime Minister Narendra 
Modi.

   Biden, asked about his message for Albanese just before he departed South 
Korea on Sunday to head to Tokyo, said, "I'm looking forward to seeing him and 
the Quad matters."

   Biden also said he had called Albanese.

   Australian National University constitutional law expert professor Donald 
Rothwell said that Australia's governor general, the representative of the 
country's ultimate head of state, Queen Elizabeth II, would "only be prepared 
to swear in Albanese as 'Acting PM' until such time as the results are much 
clearer."

   Albanese, speaking to reporters on Sunday morning, merely said he would be 
among "five people who'll be sworn in tomorrow (Monday)" before attending the 
Quad meeting, then returning to Australia on Wednesday when "we'll get down to 
business." The four colleagues he mentioned included lawmakers set to step into 
key financial portfolios and his deputy leader.

   The election delivered a clear rebuke to Australia's traditional two-party 
system, both to Labor and the heavily defeated conservative coalition led by 
the Liberal party's outgoing Prime Minister Morrison. The major parties bled 
votes to fringe parties and independents, including in many seats considered 
Labor or coalition strongholds.

   Needing 76 seats in the lower chamber, the House of Representatives, to 
govern in its own right, Labor on Sunday afternoon was being called the winner 
in 71, with 67% of votes counted, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corp.

   The Liberal-National coalition was ahead in just 52 -- drastically down from 
its bare-majority 76 in the 2019 poll. Analysts described the result as a 
fierce rejection of Morrison and his team's handling of many issues in its 
three-year term including climate, COVID-19, women's rights, political 
integrity and natural disasters such as bushfires and floods.

   A total of 15 seats had been declared for independents or minor party 
candidates. Of these, three were from the environment-centric Green party and 
12 were non-aligned politicians, with up to nine of those so-called teal 
independents. Labor may need the support of some of those winners, depending on 
who secures the seven seats still undecided.

   In a new wave in Australian politics, the teal independents are marketed as 
a greener shade than the Liberal Party's traditional blue color and want 
stronger government action on reducing Australia's greenhouse gas emissions 
than either the government or Labor are proposing.

   Most of their successful candidates are women, their rise seen partly as a 
repudiation of Morrison for his handling of gender issues including sexual 
harassment scandals that have rocked Parliament during his latest three-year 
term.

   While Labor will form either a majority or minority government, both major 
parties lost ground, with support for the coalition dropping by more than 6% 
from the 2019 election, and Labor's vote falling by around 1.2% as of Sunday 
morning.

   Albanese vowed to bring Australians together, increase investment in social 
services and "end the climate wars."

   Speaking to reporters while walking his dog in his electorate on Sunday 
morning, he evoked a more cooperative approach to parliamentary business -- 
possibly unavoidable if Labor cannot form a majority government -- and 
described his victory as "a really big moment."

   "It's something that's a big moment in my life, but what I want it to be is 
a big moment for the country," he said. "I do want to change the country. I 
want to change the way that politics operates in this country."

   Greens leader Adam Bandt concurred, saying his party wanted to work with the 
next government to "tackle the climate crisis" and an "inequality crisis" he 
said was threatening Australia.

   "The Liberal vote went backwards, the Labor vote went backwards," he told 
reporters. "More people turned to the Greens than ever before ... because we 
said that politics needs to be done differently."

   Albanese, who revealed in a 2016 interview he had tracked down his 
biological father in Italy in 2009, four years before his death, said his 
surname and that of new government Senate leader Penny Wong, who is of Chinese 
ancestry, reflected modern, multi-cultural Australia.

   "I think it's good ... someone with a non-Anglo Celtic surname is the leader 
in the House of Representatives and that someone with a surname like Wong is 
the leader of the government in the Senate," he said.

   Labor has promised more financial assistance and a robust social safety net 
as Australia grapples with the highest inflation since 2001 and soaring housing 
prices.

   The party also plans to increase minimum wages, and on the foreign policy 
front it proposed to establish a Pacific defense school to train neighboring 
armies in response to China's potential military presence on the Solomon 
Islands on Australia's doorstep.

   It wants to tackle climate change with a more ambitious 43% reduction in 
greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and net zero emissions by 2050.

   Morrison, who became prime minister after an internal party coup in 2018, 
said he would stand down as Liberal leader.

 
 
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